Moreover, it was going to be $75 per person just for the visa to enter Malawi, and because we happened to be visiting in the midst of the rainy season, the weather would be at its worst. In the end, we worried the high price to see this small country would not be worth it for us.
We were still traveling with our motorcycle friend, Emiliano, and when we pulled up to where people said the Malawi Customs and Immigration building was, I simply didn't believe it. There was no sign, no Malawian flag, no indication that this tiny sweltering set of walls was going to be able to process our expensive visas.
But sure enough, we'd come to the right place, and spent the next few hours standing in line between sweaty people, filling out paperwork, dishing out our hard-to-come-by US currency for the visa, along with paying for a road tax, carbon tax, and something called a consulate tax... and then after all that, as I proudly looked at the official full-page sticker for the Malawi visa in my passport, I noticed that they had labeled me as a MALE.
I sighed. “Well, I'm not going to go stand in line again to change it now," I told Tim in my best deep, manly voice.
Dirt roads extended away from our “paved" one into grassy fields of cows grazing between clumps of brick thatched huts. People were selling bananas, pulling their goats around on a rope, riding bicycles laden in sacks of corn meal. A woman was carrying a live chicken in a plastic bag with only its head sticking out. A man was fixing people's broken flip flops, and yes, that seemed to be his full-time job.
One time we tried to find food to cook, and we stopped by a roadside thatched hut called Mkaika Shopping Centre. But they only had loaves of processed white bread, sacks of rice and corn flour, a few tomatoes and tiny onions, and bars of laundry soap for washing clothes by hand. That's it. No meat, no eggs, no real vegetables. Just the very basics for survival.
The water was soothingly warm, and the lake was dotted in wooden dugout fishing boats.
We knew we needed to get dry before we turned into moldy prunes.
So Tim and I planned to leave the lake and head to the next biggest town, Mzuzu (best name ever), where we could stay indoors in a hotel, and get ourselves dry.
Just as in Peru, for some reason drivers in Malawi like to stray into your lane and play chicken with you, especially if you're on a motorcycle. They believe that motorcycles are small and slow (neither of which is true for us) and should move out of the way of bigger vehicles. Trucks were barreling frighteningly close to us, and we were being run off the road into the mud and flooded-out gravel, which was equally dangerous. Tim laid on the horn, flashed his brights at all oncoming traffic, but his efforts were being drowned out by the pounding rain.
And then there was this one semi truck that simply did not care about our lives. We skirted over as far as we could go, but as he came at us full-speed, I thought, “Ok, this is it. We're going to die." Somehow, and I still don't know how, the truck did not hit us. It must have come less than an inch away from our pannier. We could feel the wobble of the wind it created as the semi swished passed us, and with our stomachs in our throats, we pulled over to take a breather.
“That was the closest we've ever come to death on the road," Tim said to me as we sat in the rain.
Very slowly, and very carefully, we pushed on to Mzuzu, and somehow made it there alive.
On the second day there, we both got sick. It was food poisoning, a need-to-go-to-the-bathroom type of sick. Good thing we had our own en suite toilet and there was a pharmacy across the street.
We ended up staying a week in Mzuzu to recover. And finally, on the eighth day the sun came out, we felt better, and we decided to leave. But as we started packing up, we opened up one of our panniers and the horrible stench of athlete's foot came wafting out from our sleeping pads.
Mold. All our camping gear was covered in putrid, festering mold.
A few hours later, and due to the drying power of that one sunny day, the little green circles of mold stains had faded and didn't smell so bad anymore. So we once again packed up, kept our fingers crossed for no rain, and headed higher into the mountains to a place called the Mushroom Farm.
But it was the road out that was the most spectacular of all: a rocky and rutted set of tight switchbacks through the jungle with views of the blue Lake Malawi interspersed between the trees.
And then it died again. And again. Thank goodness we were headed steeply downhill and didn't actually need the engine, but by the twelfth time that the bike randomly shut off, we kept thinking, what is wrong with it now!?
But thanks to the online community, people came up with some great suggestions. One theory was that our bike may have had an electrical “aneurysm", and in computer terms, needed a reboot. So after taking out the battery, checking all the connections, and putting things back together, we decided to take a test ride up the mountain again and back down. It was the same road, and we were replicating the same circumstances, and luckily, nothing went wrong this time.
So we're hoping that the aneurysm theory was right, and so far, our beloved bike has been back in business.
Ok, I was beginning to realize that swimming in Lake Malawi was not going to be as divine as I had once hoped. Or maybe we were just unlucky with our timing and selected swimming locations. But we ended up wading our feet in, and taking a final stroll along the beach instead of a swim. Guessing by our luck so far, we would have definitely been eaten by that crocodile if we went in.
Now, we're moving on to our next country: Tanzania. And I couldn't be more excited.
This week we'd like to thank Brendon Lever for his generosity, and all those who have left reviews of Tim's book on Amazon. They are heartfelt and very appreciated, and have been great motivation for him to finish up his next book: Two-Up and Overloaded! We also want to give a shout out to our dear friend Jacques in South Africa who showed us our first African off-road mountain pass, our first braai, and despite facing some obstacles along the road, he's still keeping it strong.
Stay tuned and we'll keep you posted on the next chapter of our journey.